Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sure-fire Christmas Present No:1

"The harder I work the luckier I get", is a quote attributed to various individuals, including Thomas Jefferson, Sam Goldwyn and Gary Player, but that maxim could justifiably have originated from the keyboard of my good friend and guest today on ItttL, Jonathan Pinnock.

Jon's writing has won him numerous prizes and accolades, including the prestigious Scott Prize the direct result of which is his first collection of short – and very short – fiction, Dot Dash, published this week by Salt Publishing, publishers of the 2012 Man Booker finalist The Lighthouse, by Alison Moore.

His work has appeared in a bewildering number of publications, worldwide, and been performed on stage and on BBC Radio. Jon achieved further success last year with his first full-length fiction book, Mrs Darcy versus The Aliens, published by Proxima Books.

ItttL: Hi, Jon, and welcome back to ItttL. Congratulations on your Scott Prize win, and on the publication of Dot Dash. How does it feel to share a publisher with a Man Booker Prize finalist?

Jon: Wonderful! Although… obviously I’m really pleased for Salt and for Alison Moore (and “The Lighthouse” is a bloody marvellous book, by the way), but it’s actually quite unsettling to feel that you’ve hung around in the same playground as her, because you can’t help wondering if you should maybe be raising your aim a little too. And that way madness lies.

ItttL: Given that Dot Dash is your first collection, what is the current title-count of the short fiction you've written to date? I suspect the answer is a high number, so how did you decide what to include, and what to leave out?

Jon: I’m not actually sure, but it’s probably in three figures by now. The decision process was actually quite simple. For the longer pieces, I started off by going through everything I had that had won a prize or had got some kind of mention and put them in. Then I went through the ones that had been published somewhere and picked the ones that seemed to me to be the strongest. For the shorter ones, the process was a lot simpler, because there were only just enough that had previously been published. In fact, I think I may have thrown in a couple of unpublished ones to make up the numbers.

ItttL: Dot-dash represents the letter "A" in Morse code. "C" got Tom McCarthy shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2010, did that fact influence your choice of title, or was there some other reason? (He asks with a sly wink).

Jon: Ha. We’re back to the Booker, aren’t we? No, “C” had nothing to do with it! I wanted to do something different from the usual “XXX and Other Stories” thing, and the slightly unusual structure of the collection lent itself to “Dot Dash”. Also, I’m a big fan of the band Wire, especially their song of the same name. If I ever get allowed to publish another collection, I’d really love to continue the theme by calling it “Dip Flash”.

ItttL: My copy of Dot Dash arrived last weekend; so I'm still buzzing with the amazing variety of work it contains in no fewer than 58 separate pieces. What would you say is the main trigger/inspiration for you when you start writing a piece of short fiction?

Jon: Generally speaking I need a purpose – some kind of competition or publication to aim for. It’s very rare that an idea pops into my head unprovoked. What I love is when you start writing something to fit a particular set of parameters and some completely unexpected theme emerges from your unconscious. I also love playing with different formats – different voices, tenses, sentence lengths and so on.

ItttL: I'm pleased to see that you've included a number of my favourite Pinnock tales in Dot Dash, including: After Michelangelo (under a different title, the first of your stories I ever read – brilliantly dark); Canine Mathematics (which makes me corpse every time I even think of it – cunningly crazy) and Mr Nathwani's Haiku (a new voice that fooled me in a Verulam Writers' Circle Crystal Decanter competition anonymous adjudication - perceptive and moving). If I asked you to pick your personal favourite story from Dot Dash, which one would it be, and why?

Jon: This is a bit like asking which of my kids I prefer! Of the really short ones, “Steaming” is the one I’m proudest of, because I think it succeeds in being simultaneously gruesome, funny and mundane in less then 140 characters. Of the longer ones, maybe “Return to Cairo”, because it combines humour and absurdity with pathos. But ask me again tomorrow, and I’ll almost certainly have changed my mind.

ItttL: Following the success of Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, the indisputable popularity of your short fiction, and by extension I'm sure, the success of Dot Dash, what projects do you have in preparation?

Jon: Good question. The next book is an offbeat non-fiction/memoir-ish thing that’s currently out on submission. And I’m trying to decide what to do after that! I guess I’d hoped to have some idea by now of what kind of writer I am, and hence what I should be focussing on, but unfortunately I seem to remain resolutely unfocussed. So I’ll probably end up trying to write several completely different things at once in the hope that Darwinism will somehow result in something publishable emerging. God only knows if that will work, but it appears to be my only option.

ItttL STOP PRESS: I've just received an email heads-up from Liars' League of an upcoming event and see that yet another story from Dot Dash, The Last Words of Emanuel Prettyjohn leads the list of stories to be performed by professional actors, in London, on November 13th. Congratulations once again.

Thank you, Jon, for taking the time to drop in at ItttL on your hectic blog tour. I wish you continuing success, and a sales graph like the north face of the Eiger.

Christmas recommendation No:1 If you've read this far, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that I heartily recommend Jonathan Pinnock's short story collection Dot Dash as a book you'll enjoy at first reading and return to dip into again and again. It's a dead cert Christmas present, even for somebody whose lifestyle limits his or her reading time. Dot Dash is available direct from Salt Publishing, Amazon, or your local bookshop.

PS: I understand that signed copies are available via the PayPal button on or!